Artichoke and its special use in weight loss diets

Artichoke and its special use in weight loss diets

In recent years, Artichoke has been used as a detox ingredient to cleanse the body. That is why its consumption has become so popular in weight and fat loss diets.

What is an Artichoke?

Also called Cynara scolymus, it is a perennial plant that belongs to the Asteraceae (Compositae) family. There are different vegetables that also belong to this group, like chicory, lettuce, endive, escarole, thistle… All of them have a thing in common: a bitter flavor due to their cynarin content. We will talk about this substance in more detail later on in this article.

This plant can grow up to two meters high, although it just grows one meter and a half on average.

Artichoke heart

The head of the artichoke is where the flowers are hidden and it is the edible part of the plant. These heads are covered by layers of leaves, the ones on the outside are harder than those on the inside. Said part is also called “artichoke heart” which is the most valuable part for cooking.

Where does artichoke come from?

According to what we know, the etymology seems to be rooted in the Arab word “al-kharshûf”. It means something like “earth tongue” which refers to the aspect of their peculiar leaves.

Artichokes come from Northeast Africa, a region where the Arabs used to trade with Europe. This plant was so successful, that people started to plant it almost in the entire continent. In this same trading area, many fruits followed the same path as artichoke.

However, some centuries ago, the Greeks and Roman already new about the properties of artichoke. They believed that this vegetable had aphrodisiac effects. Although there is no concluding evidence, artichoke could be a genetic variation of wild thistle (Cynara cardunculus). This species grows spontaneously in many uncultivated crops in Europe.

Outside Europe

Perhaps, there was a selection and crossing between this and other types of thistle that resulted in a highly improved species that was also edible. One of the places that produces more artichoke is the west coast of the United States. More specifically California, since Spanish and French sailors brought this plant here all the way from Europe.

Nevertheless, its main production core was the Mediterranean area. This place makes up more than three fourths of the global artichoke production, as well as tomatos.

Not in vain, Italy  leads the artichoke producer ranking, followed by Spain which is also the first in the exportation ranking. There, the East of Spain and the Ebro Valley are the main cultivation areas.

Original uses of Artichoke

There is evidence that its intake had a therapeutic and preventive purpose. It seems that Egyptians and Mesopotamian people knew this plant, since they already used it due to its effects on health, specially on the digestive apparatus.

As we previously mentioned, artichoke was a luxury product for Greeks and Romans due to its aphrodisiac properties. Part of the production in ancient Greece was reserved to those women who wanted to become pregnant, specially to give birth to a boy. In fact, if we jump to the 16th century, we find a writing from a doctor who claimed that artichoke “can provoke Venus for men and it makes women more desirable“.

Cooking artichokes

In ancient Greece, people ate artichoke raw. However, this habit disappeared once it reached Rome because people said it stained the teeth. So, people started using it for cooking under the rule emperor Augustus. Although we may think that eating artichoke is something common, it was not always like that. In fact, it was a luxury product that online the elite could use until the 18th century.

At the beginning of the 20th century, artichoke started to become more popular due to divulgation writings and scientific essays.

For instance, a prestigious French doctor ensured that artichoke leaves were a great remedy against arteriosclerosis. In fact, people also believed that it regulated the urea metabolism as well as the cholesterol.

What is artichoke used for currently

After this journey through history, we will focus on the role of artichoke in the nutrition of the 21st century.

Apart from being a highly valued culinary delicacy, it has become the star product of many weight loss diets. This is due to the fact that it is an ingredient that is low in fat and rich in fiber.

The latter produces a powerful synergy, since it prevents the re-absorption of fats. Consequently, the bile will break them down so that they will be excreted later on in the stool.

Eating artichoke cleanses the body in two different ways:

  • Its soluble fiber cleans the residues from the intestine.
  • It stimulates the bile in order to eliminate the fat excess from food.

Therapeutic Effect

Its intense control on the bile secretion can entail a quasi-therapeutic effect on those who have problems to absorb fats. Some of these people suffer ictericia or “lazy liver” (this happens when the liver is saturated and it is unable to perform its metabolic tasks).

That is the reason why people use it to improve the fat digestion. Moreover, it can stimulate the regeneration of damaged liver cells. That is why it is also very advised for fatty liver (more serious than lazy liver) which helps to break down waste substances to prevent their potential toxicity.

Artichokes are also used to prevent degenerative diseases, which is why they are one of the best vegetables for our health. We could compare its benefits with those of peas, tomato as well as some fruits.

One of the active ingredients from artichoke is chlorogenic acid, which produces a powerful antioxidant effect in the cell membrane. Consequently, this hinders the formation of free radicals that can trigger processes like cancer or some heart diseases.

For the diet

Those who are prone to having unstable blood glucose levels should add artichoke to their diet.

Apart from eliminating residues, the fiber from this vegetable performs an important task in the intestinal tract: it catches the carb excess that will become glucose, increasing the glycemia. Therefore, diabetic people will highly benefit from its use due to its hypoglycemic effect.

Arthritis and gout are two very common diseases that can also be treated with artichoke. Its diuretic effect helps to eliminate some substances that have certain toxicity, such as uric acid.

Artichoke supports weight loss

That is why some people use products like artichoke to fight against this chronic joint processes. Moreover, it also has anti-inflammatory properties that come from one of its flavonoids, cynaroside. This element can lower the joint damage and, consequently, the pain. Moreover, it would be interesting to eat artichoke regularly if we suffer hypertension thanks to its ability to fight against fluid retention. This property will also help to lower the cholesterol rate and the blood triglyceride levels.

Combining both factors results in an incredible ingredient to prevent cardiovascular diseases, which are the first cause of death in developed countries.

Properties and Benefits of Artichoke

Artichoke is an indispensable food for a balanced diet due to its many benefits for our health.

Let’s break down these properties one by one

First of all, the main component of artichoke is water, which makes up an 87% of its weight. What about the remaining 13%? If we talk about fats and simple carbohydrates the former only make up a 0.1% and the latter a 2%. So the caloric value of artichokes is quite poor (around 40 kilocalories every 100 grams).

Protein make up around a 2%. Complex carbohydrates are the main protagonists, specially inulin, followed by soluble fiber. The former is crucial because it blocks the synthesis peaks of diabetes mellitus. It is a reserve polysaccharide from glucose and fructose.

Micronutrients deserve a special attention

Now, we will deal with the Vitamins, minerals and certain specific substances.

When it comes to vitamins, artichoke has vitamin B (B1, B3) and vitamin E. The first two ones are determinant to ensure the efficacy of the metabolic pathways for carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Vitamin B1 is specially important for the functioning of the nervous system while vitamin E has an antioxidant effect on all the tissues.

Regarding minerals, artichoke is specially rich in potassium but it is also one of the richest vegetables in magnesium, phosphorus calcium. Potassium is crucial because it regulates the liquid levels, lowers the blood pressure and transmits nervous impulses. However, its calcium content is not as available as the calcium from animal products.

On the other hand, magnesium performs many functions regarding the functioning of the intestine, nerves and muscles. It is fundamental for the binding of calcium to the bones and teeth while strengthening the immune system.

For pregnancy

Artichoke is advised for pregnancy, specially during the third trimester, due to its richness in these macrominerals. In addition, artichoke is an artery relaxant, an effect produced by the apigenin flavonoid. After describing all this properties, we should have more than enough reasons to add artichoke to our diets. However, we still need to address a series of substances which can produce very beneficial effects:

  • Cynarin and cynaropicrin: Two aromatic compounds which are responsible for its characteristic bitter flavor. Scientifically speaking, they produce choleretic and cholagogue effects. This means that they stimulate the acid and bile salts production on the hepatocytes (noble liver cells). On the other hand, they are involved in the excretion of stored bile from the bile vesicle. Most of the cynarin is one the leaf pulp, dry leaves and stems, and it improves the fat digestion. The body excretes the bile through the duodenum after eating food in order to metabolize its triglycerides. To illustrate this point, artichoke can increase the bile produced by the liver in a 50%, up to a liter daily. Regarding cynaropicrin, some research studies focus on how it could potentially prevent tumors.
  • Chlorogenic acid: It is a substance whose antioxidant power heals the cell membranes.
  • Phytosterols: They are substances that could be called vegetable cholesterol. Their importance lies in their ability to hinder the cholesterol absorption in the intestine.
  • Organic acids: Mainly malic and citric acids which work in synergy with cynarin and cynaroside. The diuretic function is connected to malic, citric, glyceric, succinic and lactic acid.
  • Flavonoids: From luteolin which enhances the diuresis of the previous acids and other substances called scolimosides and potassium rich salts. More specifically, cynaroside has anti-inflammatory properties. After confirming the benefits from cynarin, artichoke became a medicinal plant.

Possible side effects of Artichoke

Possible side effects of artichoke

In spite of all its benefits for our health, artichoke is not exempt from triggering side effects. For some people, it can trigger allergic reactions, like any other fruit or product would

This tends to happen to those who are hypersensitive to other plants such as marigold, daisies, chrysanthemum and similar ones. These allergic reactions can trigger skin rash, urticaria, intense itchiness, edema, asthma and difficulty to breathe. In the worst cases, it can cause an anaphylactic shock.

Apart from allergies, we need to take into account other possible side effects regarding intestinal problems: flatulence, diarrhea, lack of appetite or nausea. Sometimes, it can reveal a hidden problem, like cholelithiasis or gallstones. In fact, eating artichokes is bad for those who have their bile conduct partially obstructed. This is due to its cholagogue effect that increases the vesicle emptying that can end up blocking the bile.

Artichoke could increase the risk of hemorrhage even though we still need more concluding data. This could potentially affect those who suffer some kind of hematological disorder or those who take anticoagulants like warfarin.

Lactating women should avoid artichoke during this period since it can transfer its bitter flavor to breast milk.

Another side effect that is actually a physiological consequence is an increase of the diuresis.

Artichoke extract supplements

Lately, the market has focusing of producing artichoke concentrates to lose weight. They are available in many formats such as pills, ampules, capsules, powders, teas and others. Artichoke extracts are natural remedies that are backed up by scientific essays that support the benefits of their consumption. In fact, this also happens with other products such as peas.

People use artichoke leaves with therapeutic purposes in order to benefit from its cynarin content. Apart from cynarin, artichoke also has cynaropicrin that improves the digestion and stimulates the appetite. We will have to take this double effect into account when choosing the moment to take these substances.

If we take them before a meal, they will stimulate the digestive juices. However, if we take them afterwards, they will improve the digestive process while reducing the flatulence. An interesting property of artichoke extract is its mucilage content. When it mixes with water, it produces colloidal substances that improve the transit of the food through the intestine.

Capsule supplements

Why take artichoke extract

This product can be used as a natural diuretic to prevent fluid retention and stimulate the functioning of the kidneys. We need to be careful and drink plenty of water when taking artichoke extracts. In addition, we will need to consume enough calories, otherwise, our metabolism will slow down, which will hinder our ability to lose weight.

The recommended daily dose for an adult is three serving between 500 and 650 milligrams of artichoke leaf standardized extract. The intake should last between a month or month and a half.

Cycling an artichoke leaf supplement is the best alternative for those who need substances with:

  • Choleretic effect (stimulating the bile production)
  • Hypocholesterolemia effect (lowering the cholesterol levels)
  • Anti-dyspeptic effect (better digestions)
  • Carminative effect (get rid of flatulence)
  • Spasmolytic effect (control pain produced by intestinal spams)

There are concluding clinical studies about the ability of artichoke supplements to lower the cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.

Studies about its value

There was a study on 2000 with 143 adults whose cholesterol levels were excessively high. They took 1800mg of artichoke leaf extract for six weeks. In the end, they managed to lower their cholesterol in a 18.5% and their LDL in a 22.9%.

Without any doubt, its efficacy is similar to that of some statins. However, these substances do not have the some tolerance as artichoke extract. Moreover, it barely has any side effects. Artichoke does not only reduce the cholesterol levels since it also regulates the hypertriglyceridemia. This problem is quite frequent in obese people, those who suffer diabetes or hypercholesterolemia. In fact, it is a predisposing factor for thromboembolism and pancreatitis.

If we want a non-pharmacological treatment, it is frequent to use phytotherapy and supplements made from mucilage rich plants. As we previously mentioned, artichoke extract has a high mucilage content. Doctors tend to suggest taking artichoke extract half an hour before eating a meal. This will be enough time to let the extract mix with the gastric juice during the digestion.

Artichoke extract also helps to treat migraines. This problem affects a good percentage of the population, specially women.

This supplement has also proven to have probiotic, stimulating the intestinal flora. That is why it is good for those who suffer chronic constipation or irritable bowel syndrome.

Artichoke Extract

How to distinguish between good and bad artichoke supplements

A general rule when it comes to purchasing a supplement made from medicinal plants, is to find out their origin. All manufacturers need to pass controls performed by the corresponding sanitary authority. Unfortunately, not everyone does this, which is why we need to be careful.

Also, let’s not forget about the label when it comes to the quality of the ingredients.

The formula will list each one of the active ingredients. This should be available for the customer in order to avoid any kind of adverse reaction due to allergies or other circumstances.

When we purchase an artichoke extract, we need to ensure the authenticity of the ingredient. This is due to the fact some manufacturers claim that they manufacture their products with supposedly artichoke leaves. However, their main ingredient is a blend of different compounds which have nothing to do with it. At the same time, it is important to check the format, since it will condition its efficacy as well as the amount of product that we will need.

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Most extracts are either softgels or tablets. The first ones contain an extract concentrate that will mix with the gastric juices after a short period of time. For this reason, it is the best formula when it comes to measuring a precise dose. Otherwise, a capsule will offer more resistance to the gastric juices and we will not have as much control on the content’s release.

In addition, we need to make sure that these supplements have a standardized cynarin content. This ensure a constant and exact supply of the active ingredients, specially cynarin. In fact, these products should supply 15mg daily.

Usually, the extracts that we can find in the market have 5 or 2.5% of cynarin with a 1:8 rate. This means that the extract obtained is eight times less than the plant that was use to make it.

Possible combinations with artichoke extract supplements

There are other supplements aimed to improve the digestive process, such as ginger that will channel the hepatic and gastric functions. We suggest taking advantage of the synergy between artichoke and dandelion to cleanse the body.

Usually, there are also combinations of artichoke with horsetail, due to their diuretic effect in weight loss diets. Others have been designed to support the liver and lower the cholesterol by combining great morinda, linseed, cactus fig or green tea.

Other common combination include black radish, boldo, milk thistle and fennel.

Moreover, some manufacturers enrich their products with choline in order to support the functioning of the liver and bile vesicle.

For esthetic purposes

Finally, we will conclude by mentioning the use of artichoke extract in body mesotherapy. This is a technique that uses intra-dermal pharmacological treatments in order to fight against cellulite and localized fat deposits.

For example, it uses artichoke extract with hyaluronic acid and L-carnitine. This treatment improves the lymphatic and blood flow, contributing to the triglyceride metabolization. More specifically, L-carnitine participates in the metabolism of fatty acids. Basically, it supports a coenzyme to transport the triglyceride to the mitochondria, where they undergo an oxidation process.

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About Alberto Ricón
Alberto Ricón
Alberto Ricón is a specialist in nutrition and food hygiene with large experience in the sector as well as being a Food Health Technician.
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